Imagining a Better Future by Re-imagining the Past

Saturday, August 1, 2020

HBO Lovecraft Country

We talk a lot about H.P. Lovecraft in Dieselpunk. It seems like every time we have an opportunity, we’re showering him with praise. But let’s be clear about something.

H.P. Lovecraft was racist, anti-Semitic, and a vocal supporter of white supremacy.

Try reading his stories, and it’ll become readily apparent. Some of his stories are difficult to read because the racism is so explicit. He wrote an entire poem in 1912 about how the gods created blacks in a state of being in-between humans and beasts. Once he proclaimed, “the Negro is fundament, ally the biological inferior of all White and even Mongolian races.” And his letters include references to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and praise for Hitler.

We can’t just write this serious character flaw off as Lovecraft being a “product of his times” as we’re told to do so often. While I find the excuse questionable in the first place, Lovecraft’s views were so extreme that, according to Paul Guran, editor of The Mammoth Book of Cthulhu, he was worse than many of his era. 

How should we handle Lovecraft in light of this? Should we throw his work out and make him persona non grata? Thankfully, such extreme steps aren’t necessary. There are other solutions. HBO has one answer. It’s called Lovecraft Country.

Lovecraft Country is a series developed by Misha Green based on the 2016 novel of the same name by Matt Ruff. The cast of Lovecraft Country includes Jurnee Smollett-Bell, Jonathan Majors, Aunjanue Ellis, and Abbey Lee. One, of its executive producers, is J. J. Abrams, who’s famous for screwing up movies such as Star Trek and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

According to Deadline Hollywood, the series follows "Atticus Black as he joins up with his friend Letitia and his Uncle George to embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father. This begins a struggle to survive and overcome both the racist terrors of white America and the terrifying monsters that could be ripped from a Lovecraft paperback."

It is set to premiere on August 16, 2020, on HBO.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Dieselpunk Pandemic Fashion

I came across this Facebook meme earlier today. While it originally posted to Facebook back in 2017, it’s just as applicable today in 2020 with the pandemic.

Photo: Pyszczek Photography
Headpiece: Fascynacje Zuzanny
PE: Klaudia Szydlo

This meme inspired me to post a few images of dieselpunk fashion with masks. I hope you enjoy them. 

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Lift Every Voice and Sing

Recently the NFL announced that they would play the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” at the start of each game during Week 1 along with the “Star-Spangled Banner.” Many may not know that there is a strong Diesel Era connection with the song.

First, here's some background for those not familiar with the song. "Lift Every Voice and Sing" was originally a poem written by James Weldon Johnson in 1900. Later, in 1905, J. Rosamond Johnson, the brother of James Weldon Johnson, set it to music. The poem and song  “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” are written as a prayer of thanksgiving for freedom. “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” is found in numerous Christian hymnals across the US.

There are two Diesel Era connections to the song. The term “Black National Anthem” comes from when the NAACP dubbed it the “Negro National Anthem" in 1919. Later, in 1939, the African-American sculptor Augusta Savage received a commission from the New York World's Fair. She created a 16-foot plaster sculpture called “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which some called “The Harp.”  Unfortunately, because Savage lacked the funds to have it cast in bronze or to move it, the sculpture was destroyed when the fair closed.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Postcards From The Past

As America of the 1930s came out of the dark ages of Prohibition, cocktails could finally be enjoyed legally again. With the return to legality, mixologists had greater access to quality spirits. The result was a boom in new and better cocktails for people to enjoy. With this renaissance in drinks came the growth of cocktail culture around the nation. 

The book Cocktails Across America by Diane Lapis and Anne Peck-Davis looks at the cocktail culture of the 1930s - 1950s. Not into cocktails? Don’t worry. Cocktails Across America is bursting full of images of postcards from that era on nearly every page. Each image of a postcard is of high quality and in full color. In the back of the book, there’s something extra. There are reproductions of several color postcards just as they were with both sides.

Cocktails Across America is a fun book that everyone can enjoy, even for the teetotalers. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

PMJ Pop-Up

Many of my readers are old enough to remember when MTV and its sister station VH1 used to play music. I remember one fun program that I enjoyed on VH1 was Pop-Up Videos. In VH1 Pop-Up Videos, while a popular music video played, little balloons would appear containing trivia and commentary about the song, the band, and the video.

I’m excited to report that Postmodern Jukebox has brought back the Pop-Up video. Their first pop-up video is Sweet Child O' Mine with the wonderful Miche Braden. Check it out:

Let’s hope that they make many more of these.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

D-Day Anniversary

"For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home." President Franklin D Roosevelt D-Day Prayer, June 6, 1944.

These are interesting times, both in real-world matters and in Dieselpunk. In the real world, we’ve seen people of all races join together in demands for racial justice. And in the Dieselpunk community, there have been conversations about the role of politics, if any, in the genre. As my readers know, I have my own thoughts on all of these topics and more. However, rather than write about such issues at this time, what’s needed is to step back and remember one of the pivotal moments in history: the D-Day invasion that took place on June 6, 1944.

Early in World War II, Germany invaded and occupied northwestern France. In 1941, the Allies planned for a cross-Channel invasion of the continent. The code name for the invasion was “Operation Overlord.” In November 1943, Adolf Hitler, who was aware of the threat of an invasion along France’s northern coast, charged Erwin Rommel with finishing the Atlantic Wall, a 2,400-mile fortification of bunkers, landmines, and beach and water obstacles

In January 1944, General Dwight Eisenhower was appointed commander of Operation Overlord. In the months and weeks before D-Day, the Allies carried out a massive deception operation intended to make the Germans think the main invasion target was Pas-de-Calais rather than Normandy. Also, they led the Germans to believe that Norway and other locations were also potential invasion targets. Many tactics were used to carry out the deception, including fake equipment, a phantom army commanded by George Patton and supposedly based in England, across from Pas-de-Calais, double agents, and fraudulent radio transmissions.

Initially, the date for Operation Overlord was June 5, 1944. However, bad weather on the days leading up to the operation caused it to be delayed. By dawn on June 6, as the meteorologists predicted, the weather had cleared. Thousands of paratroopers and glider troops were already on the ground behind enemy lines, securing bridges and exit roads. The amphibious invasions began at 6:30 a.m. The British and Canadians overcame light opposition to capture beaches codenamed Gold, Juno, and Sword, as did the Americans at Utah Beach. U.S. forces faced massive resistance at Omaha Beach, where there were over 2,000 American casualties. However, by day’s end, approximately 156,000 Allied troops had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches. According to some estimates, more than 4,000 Allied troops lost their lives in the D-Day invasion, with thousands more wounded or missing.

Less than a week later, on June 11, the beaches were fully secured, and over 326,000 troops, more than 50,000 vehicles, and some 100,000 tons of equipment had landed at Normandy.

By the end of August 1944, the Allies had reached the Seine River, Paris was liberated, and the Germans had been removed from northwestern France, effectively concluding the Battle of Normandy. The Allied forces then prepared to enter Germany, where they would meet up with Soviet troops moving in from the east.

On April 30, Hitler committed suicide while cowering in his bunker. A few days later, on May 8, 1945, the Allies formally accepted the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

A Man Was Lynched Yesterday

Jesse Washington was an African-American seventeen-year-old farmhand in Texas. In 1916, he was convicted of raping and murdering the wife of his white employer in rural Robinson, Texas. After the conviction, he was chained by his neck and dragged out of the county court by observers. He was then paraded through the street, all while being stabbed and beaten, before being held down and castrated. He was then lynched in front of Waco's city hall.

Over 10,000 spectators, including city officials and police, gathered to watch the attack. There was a celebratory atmosphere among whites at the spectacle of the murder. Many children attended during their lunch hour. Members of the mob cut off his fingers and hung him over a bonfire after saturating him with coal oil. He was repeatedly lowered and raised over the fire for about two hours. After the fire was extinguished, his charred torso was dragged through the town, and parts of his body were sold as souvenirs. A professional photographer took pictures as the event unfolded, providing rare imagery of a lynching in progress. The photographs were printed and sold as postcards in Waco.

In response to this horrific event, the NAACP developed a flag with white text, "A MAN WAS LYNCHED YESTERDAY" on a black background. This flag served as a means to protest the lynching of Washington and other African-Americans in the United States.

The NAACP flag exhibited by the Library of Congress

The flag was flown each day after news of a lynching reached the NAACP. It flew 73 times in the period for lynchings in the state of Georgia alone. The NAACP stopped the practice in 1938 after it was threatened with eviction by their landlords over the matter. The original flag survives and is now in the collection of the Library of Congress.